By David Higginbotham
Have you ever thought to yourself, I wonder what would happen if I took one of the most widely accepted firearms design principles and flipped it upside down? When Italians Emilio Ghisoni and Antonio Cudazzo moved the barrel of the revolver down in the frame, they upended almost two centuries of accepted wheel-gun gospel. At the very least, the resulting gun is a novelty that needs to be shot to be fully appreciated. Like a shotgun with three barrels, it feels unnatural. Are there practical benefits to the steampunk lines and unorthodox barrel placement of Chiappa’s design? As it turns out, there are.
If you’re unfamiliar with the basic design of the Rhino revolvers, a quick look down the business end of the barrel will get you caught up quickly. The barrel is upside down. Sort of. It isn’t where you would expect it to be, anyhow. If a typical revolver fires from the 12 o’clock position (the top of the cylinder’s rotation), the Rhino revolver fires from 6 o’clock (at the bottom). The bullet travels through a barrel that sits much lower in your hand. As such, the recoil energy drives the gun back into your hand instead of flipping the muzzle up.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming the Rhino will behave just like any other revolver with less kick. There is a learning curve associated with the design. The first trick is obviously the position of the barrel. While it doesn’t make that much of a difference if you are drawing the gun from concealment and point shooting, the lower position of the barrel does add about an inch of height to the sights. Close shots hit slightly lower than point of aim, though they are not going to miss your target.
While it cuts down on muzzle flip, that lowered barrel does present a greater safety hazard to those used to aggressively gripping semi-autos with the support hand forward on the gun. Do not get your support hand too close to the cylinder. In fact, I’d suggest keeping your support hand directly over your shooting hand, or maybe a bit lower than that if the cylinder gap on the Rhino you shoot seems wide. Why? The escaping gasses are rough on your hands. Jacob Epstein (who was assisting me with this review) had fired several cylinders from the 200DS with no difficulty. Then he slipped up. He reloaded, gripped the gun at low ready, and brought it up holding it like he holds pistols. Bad idea. The first shot ripped open the thumb on his left hand, right down the distal nail bed. It was gruesome, and slightly cauterized, and a really good (if slightly painful) teachable moment.
Those used to shooting wheel guns typically develop grips that keep thumbs back toward the hammer. That’s a fine way to hold the Rhinos and just requires a bit of conditioning to become habit. With the thumbs back on the frame, the cocking lever (which isn’t a hammer, at all) can be worked with either thumb. The actual hammer is down inside the gun, where it can pop the primers of the rounds closest to your hand.
The last nuances are easier to pick up. A lever high on the rear of the frame drops the cylinder to the left side. If you want to decock the DS (double/single action) Rhino, you can (if you really must) pull the hammer-like lever back and slowly ease the trigger back, just like on most revolvers and 1911s, though that is a very unsafe way to operate. It is best to simply rock out the cylinder, empty the cartridges, close it up and (with the gun pointed in the perfect safe direction) dry fire. There is a small, red plunger that pops up when the hammer is cocked. It is easy to recognize, and unobtrusive. The DAO versions don’t have this issue. Since they can’t be cocked, the cocking lever is replaced by a rounded sleeve that won’t snag on clothing.
The Rhino 200D
Don’t let size fool you. This little Rhino still has horns. The two-inch snub-nosed is chambered for .357 and can hold six rounds. The grips are rubber, which helps soften some of the punch. The trigger is double action only, which serves the defensive purpose nicely. There are versions that do double and single (the DS marked guns). Though the barrel is a scant two inches, the whole gun is a decently compact six inches in overall length. Empty, the 200D weighs in at 1.5 pounds. This puts it squarely in the range of most compact revolvers. If there is an immediately noticeable difference, it is that the hexagonal cylinder cuts down on width. It is a six-shot revolver that is as narrow as most five-shot guns. It is still hefty, though. While it is narrow and has a compact length, the frame has more area than some really compact belly guns.
In a revolver this size, I prefer the DAO action. It fits with how I shoot small-framed revolvers. I like to pull and punch out the gun, and point shoot at the end of the motion. At defensive distances (especially under seven yards) the shot patterns are effective. I find that I often put more rounds in center mass this way than I do when I try to carefully stage shots with a double action trigger.
The sights on the 200D are better than most blade-front snub-nosed guns. The rear is a typical channel cut into the frame, but the front is a long fiber optic that glows nicely. If you do have to really aim, the combination is decent, but the glowing front is a nice bright spot that is easy to find when the gun is in motion, which makes fast shots out of the holster much more realistic. When the gun is properly aligned, the front sight works like a tiny red dot optic.
In addition, each gun is shipped with moon clips (for faster reloads), a tool for pulling any brass that may not eject correctly (a problem we never experienced), and a detailed manual (which clearly says KEEP YOUR HANDS CLEAR OF THE CYLINDER GAP). The 200D and DS line also ships with a nice OWB holster made of fine Corinthian leather. It is the nicest holster I’ve ever seen shipped with a gun and a real benefit. Since these guns have been slow to catch on in the States, you may not find the perfect holster in your local shop. This way, you can wear the Rhino out the door, if you want.
The Rhino 60DS
The 60DS is a lot better looking than the 200D. The nomenclature here is easy enough to decipher. The two-inch guns are in the 200 (or sometimes 20) line. As an inch is added to the length, the number goes up accordingly. The 60DS is a six-inch double/single action pistol that’s ready for primetime. The barrel is tucked away inside the angular alloy frame. The already garish lines are complimented by offset sections of rail on the top and bottom. The whole gun makes a rather odd visual, yet it manages to hang together as many of the most cinematic revolvers of our era.
The extra length is the main difference, though there is a slight addition of weight, too (a bit more than half a pound more). We didn’t get a holster for this one, so I can’t report on how well it draws, though I’m pretty sure I know. With all of the jagged rail on this, you would need a forgiving holster. The 60DS also has the cocking lever and a much more utilitarian rear sight. The green dots are very easy to see, and make for quick target acquisition.
Shooting the Rhinos
I’m not a gifted revolver shooter. I’ll come clean about that. When the world as we know it ends, I’ll stomp off into the sunset with a six-inch wheel gun on my hip, but it may take me a while to get as proficient with it as I am my 1911. Still, I know some trusty revolver fanatics, and I brought them in on this review. They worked over the Rhinos with very few complaints (aside from the mangled thumb).
My best targets with the 60DS and 200D weren’t anything to write home about. Yet the experience of shooting it was impressive. Even with .357 loads, the Rhino had a noticeably different pattern of recoil response. The muzzle flip felt more like a rifle than a pistol or revolver, which is to say it rose on the fulcrum of my shoulder rather than the fulcrum of my wrist. As a firm believer in the stopping power of the well-executed double-tap, I like the additional speed. Bang bang. My split times were faster than they are with a typical DAO revolver, though slightly slower than they are with some single action pistols. The 200D would be a good choice for a concealed carry revolver, especially for those who have an aversion to the smaller pocket pistols. Will it replace my daily carry pistol? It hasn’t yet. But I did carry the Rhino for more than a month. Even in the OWB leather holster, I had no difficulty concealing the gun with the tail of a bowling shirt. And there’s something to be said for six shots of .357 Magnum, especially for those of us who often carry just six shots of .380 ACP.
The 60DS is much harder to hide, though the potential for accuracy increases with the longer barrel. Inside seven yards, groups are much tighter. The single action mode allows for a decent 3.9 pound pull. My trusted revolver guru assures me that I shouldn’t really bother with the single action mode on a gun like this, but that I should just pull through with a clean, determined emphasis. And I have to admit that I shoot better. I think it has everything to do with the grip strength needed to pull the almost 10-pound double action pull. All of the muscles in my hand and arm engage. Because the trigger breaks clean, and at a predictable point, my groups tightened up.
I haven’t wasted much ink on the oddly shaped grip, yet, mainly because I found it to be a surprisingly comfortable grip, especially on the 200D. It fits in the hand better than the diminutive grips of most small-framed revolvers. Because it doesn’t have the flare on the bottom, it hides a bit easier. The convex slope at the top allows for a good high grip, which centers the barrel even deeper in the hand. The only criticism I have relates to the material selection. The short Rhinos come with rubber grips. The long Rhinos (4-, 5-, 6-inch barrels) come with wooden grips. I think this is a bit backwards. As I’m not likely to care how my hand feels in a defensive gun use, I’d rather have a wooden grip. The wood is slick and less likely to hang up in clothing. The rubber would be a good option on the longer versions, the ones I’d take to the range and shoot all afternoon. But that’s me.
In the end, the decision to purchase a Rhino may come down to cost. The Rhino line isn’t cheap. The 200D retails close to $800. The 60DS sells for $930. I bet a lot of people who want to try one have not, simply because of the expense. Yet I think they’re worth the price. The 200D has the makings of a great daily carry gun. It is a well-designed blend of form and function. The 60DS seems like a completely different animal. Even after shooting more than 500 rounds of .38 and .357, I still think of the 60DS as an elaborate movie prop. It is a functioning work of art, something very few of the newer revolver designs can ever hope to achieve.